In 2019, some of our favorite Asian American comedians reached even greater heights and broke down barriers. Ali Wong knocked it out of the park as the lead in Netflix rom-com Always Be My Maybe and her book Dear Girls; Awkwafina showed off her dramatic chops in Lulu Wang’s stunning film The Farewell, scored her own TV show Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens, and was crowned one of EW’s Entertainers of the Year; Hasan Minhaj continued to educate us and make us laugh with Patriot Act, winning a 2019 Peabody Award in the process; and Kumail Nanjiani closed out a 6-season run on Silicon Valley, joined the MCU, and broke the internet with his new buff bod. We can’t wait to see what they do next, but we also can’t forget about all the rising Asian American comics whose outstanding work this year demanded our attention, from Bowen Yang becoming Saturday Night Live‘s first Chinese American cast member and quickly becoming a highlight of the show to Patti Harrison providing important trans representation while cracking us up with her delightfully quirky humor.
Here are 11 comics who killed it this year and should be on your 2020 radar.
Aparna Nancherla is one of the best stand-ups out there right now, and she’s showcased her self-deprecating humor and dry delivery on Netflix’s The Standups, The Late Late Show, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, and as a standout on Comedy Central’s Corporate. Even if you haven’t seen her on screen, you’ve definitely heard her voice before, on Bob’s Burgers, Steven Universe, and as Hollyhock on BoJack Horseman. Nancherla now stars in You’re Not a Monster, IMDb’s first scripted original series that also features Eric Stonestreet and Kelsey Grammer.
Bowen Yang made history as SNL’s first Chinese American (and fifth openly LGBTQ) performer, and he’s already made his mark as the saucy Chinese trade representative Chen Biao on “Weekend Update.” Before becoming a featured player, Yang helped pen some of last season’s most memorable sketches, including the comically moody “The Actress,” starring Emma Stone. Make sure to follow him for his impeccable lip-syncs on social media and pop-culture hot takes on his Las Culturistas podcast, and keep an eye out for him on Awkwafina’s upcoming Comedy Central show Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens premiering in January.
Sherry Cola is a standup comedian, but you may know her as the apologetic Alice on Good Trouble. She opened for Ronny Chieng’s standup special, and has roles in upcoming films like Endings, Beginnings starring Shailene Woodley and Sick Girl featuring Nina Dobrev.
Joel Kim Booster
Joel Kim Booster’s sardonic style has already made him a standup to watch, and he’s graced countless stages from Conan to Comedy Central. He’s appeared in comedies like Shrill and Search Party, and this year, he and Poppy Liu stole every scene on NBC’s Sunnyside as mysteriously wealthy twins (born at the same time to one dad and two different moms, obvs). He also launched the hilarious Urgent Care podcast with Mitra Jouhari. Seeing as Booster has two Quibi works in the pipeline — rom-com series Trip and cohosting a Singled Out reboot with Keke Palmer — he’s already on track to remain booked and busy throughout 2020.
Sheng Wang’s talent lies in astute and unexpected observations on life’s various banalities (i.e., the title of his album, Cornucopias Are Actually Horrible Containers), and he’s got plenty of experience after writing on Fresh Off the Boat, opening for John Mulaney and Ali Wong, and appearing on 2 Dope Queens. All the Taiwanese American comic needs now is his own Netflix special.
Karen Chee is one comedian you’re going to want to know ASAP and then brag to your friends you liked her before she blew up. The Korean American wrote for the 2019 Golden Globes and is a writer for Late Night with Seth Meyers, which she’s also appeared on. In an installment of the delightful recurring segment, “What Does Millennial Late Night Writer Karen Chee Know?”, which has hit nearly 2 million views, the 24-year-old shows off her bubbly humor while also making Meyers feel ancient for not knowing what Neopets are.
Eugene Cordero has appeared on so many comedy series, it’s a better question to ask which ones he hasn’t been on. Our favorite role from the prolific actor and improviser is Pillboi, Jason Mendoza’s even-dumber partner-in-literal-crime on The Good Place. In 2019, he appeared on Bajillion Dollar Propertie$, Tacoma FD, and even an episode of The Mandalorian. Soon he’ll lend his voice to the animated Star Trek: Lower Decks.
Patti Harrison’s silly, almost surreal humor is best showcased by her appearance on The Tonight Show in 2017, where she railed against the transgender military ban in the weirdest (and best) way. But her oddball comedy really shined this year with roles on High Maintenance, Shrill, I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson, and Comedy Central’s Unsend (with Booster). Harrison, who is of Vietnamese descent, has helped elevate trans talent in comedy, and you’re definitely going to see more of her work in the future. Next up, she’ll be headed into the writers’ room for Big Mouth season 4.
Kiran Deol has appeared on a slew of shows from The Newsroom to How to Get Away with Murder, but her newest role, as Kal Penn’s no-BS onscreen sister on NBC’s Sunnyside, allows her to flex her comedy chops more than ever. Deol also co-hosts the Hysteria podcast and tours as a standup.
Jimmy O. Yang
Best known for playing the blunt Jian-Yang on Silicon Valley, Jimmy O. Yang has also notched credits on New Girl, Crazy Rich Asians, Fresh Off the Boat, and more. Next up, he’ll be seen in the Tiffany Haddish comedy Like a Boss, a Fantasy Island horror reboot, and in a featured role in the highly anticipated comedy series Space Force, opposite the one-and-only Steve Carell.
While not a traditional stand-up or improv comic like others on the list, Maya Erskine‘s contribution to comedy this year cannot be ignored. Few duos made us laugh as hard in 2019 as Erskine and Anna Konkle did with Hulu’s PEN15, which the two created, co-wrote, and starred in as their 13-year-old selves. Erskine has appeared in a bunch of TV comedies like Man Seeking Woman and Insecure, but 2019 was her year. The actress starred in the refreshing rom-com Plus One and held her own besides comedy goddesses like Maya Rudolph and Amy Poehler in Netflix’s Wine Country. We can’t wait to see what she has in store for us when PEN15 returns for season 2.